Category Archives: Featured Blog

Postcard: Ramona Falls (no exaggeration required)

A hiker stands on the footbridge at the base of Ramona Falls, Mt. Hood National Forest, Ore. Courtesy photo by Catherine "Cat" Caruso.

Like many Pacific Northwest residents, I didn’t actually grow up here. I often call myself a “northeasterner by upbringing, northwesterner by choice.” While I know firsthand the way one’s hometown maintains a powerful hold on their heart, I also never tire of finding reasons to love my adopted home.

So, when one of my younger brothers came to visit this month, I steered him towards the travel and tourism kiosk located in the baggage claim area at Portland International Airport. As an anime fan, I thought he’d be especially delighted by Travel Oregon’s colorful “Oregon. Only slightly exaggerated” campaign… and he was! But even my heart skipped a beat when I recognized one of the locations in the brochure as Ramona Falls.

I’d hiked there just two weeks earlier.

An image from the “Oregon, Only slightly exaggerated,” ad campaign (Travel Oregon)

It’s as beautiful as what you see in this illustration.

The area around the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, which includes the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Hood National Forest, is said to have the largest concentration of waterfalls in the United States.

Oregon’s most-famous waterfall is probably Multnomah Falls. My brother and I made a point to visit it during his trip; a spectacular sight, water plunging hundreds of feet to the pool below. It draws visitors from around the world, daily.

But to me, Ramona Falls is more beautiful.

The view looking up at the top of Ramona Falls. Courtesy photo by Catherine “Cat” Caruso.

Before I go any further, I want to share some words of warning: Ramona Falls is located in a wilderness area.

Never go into a wilderness without the ‘10 Outdoors Essentials!”

Outdoor Eseentials: Be prepared and carry these essential items any time you head out into the outdoors! 1. Appropriate footwear. 2. Printed map. 3. Extra water. 4. Extra food. 5. Extra clothes. 6. Emergency items. 7. First aid kit. 8. Knife or multi-purpose tool. 9. Backpack. 10. Sun hat, sunscreen, sunglasses.
Outdoor Eseentials: Be prepared and carry these essential items any time you head out into the outdoors! 1. Appropriate footwear. 2. Printed map. 3. Extra water. 4. Extra food. 5. Extra clothes. 6. Emergency items. 7. First aid kit. 8. Knife or multi-purpose tool. 9. Backpack. 10. Sun hat, sunscreen, sunglasses.

During my hike, I encountered many day hikers who seemed to take the lesson of 2017’s Eagle Creek fire, which occurred in the nearby Columbia River Gorge, to heart. During that fire, more than 100 day use visitors were stranded on the trail, and forced to undertake a long, difficult hike to safety.

But I also saw many people who not well-prepared, carrying only a bottle of water and whatever fit in their pockets.

As you approach the Sandy River, the trail is clearly marked with signs that warn about the dangers of crossing. Pay attention: If you can’t safely secure your child or pet to you and carry them across an improvised footbridge mad from a fallen tree or log without losing your balance, don’t try!

I’m sharing this from my own experience: Many people bring their dogs on this hike; I assumed I’d one of them, and it was a mistake. While I believed my young pup had done enough work on a balance beam to handle a log crossing, I failed to account for how much he likes to swim. While the current was safe – though, still quite strong – against the body of an adult human, it was much too deep and too swift for my Siberian Husky. Intellectually, I’d known the river can be dangerous, emotionally, it left me far more nervous for some of the small children I saw on this trail after I’d jumped into the current myself and fought to haul 65 pounds of wriggling, wet dog to the shore.

Shortly after this photo was taken, he jumped into the river for the second time. He’s cuter than he is bright. He’s also no longer invited on hikes with unimproved water crossings. Courtesy photo by Catherine “Cat” Caruso.

Signs that warn about the dangers of river crossings are posted alongside this trail for a reason: hikers have died here, after flash floods caused by heavy rainfall, in 2004 and 2014.

It’s easy be lulled into a false sense of security when you see others navigate a risky situation successfully; I know, I made the same mistake.

My advice is to read trip reports, check weather listings, and use more caution than you think you need to. Just because nothing seems to have gone wrong for many others, doesn’t mean it can’t.

Still: At the right time of year, when the river crossing is approached with appropriate caution and care, the Ramona Falls loop trail is a beautiful hike.

The 7-to-8 mile loop has a relatively gentle grade, with a cumulative 1000 feet of elevation gain.

The trail culminates with a spectacular view from the base of Ramona Falls, which really do look like something out of a fairy tale; truly, they need no exaggeration.

Children play at the base of the “real” Ramona Falls; Mt. Hood National Forest, Ore., which needs no exaggeration. Courtesy photo by Catherine “Cat” Caruso.

More information:

Ramona Falls trail # 797 – Mt. Hood National Forest:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/mthood/recarea/?recid=53460

The Enchanting Mt. Hood and Columbia River Gorge – Travel Oregon https://traveloregon.com/only-slightly-exaggerated/the-enchanting-mt-hood-and-columbia-river-gorge/


Source information: Catherine “Cat” Caruso works in the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region Office of Communications and Community Engagement. When she’s not editing the “Your Northwest Forests” blog, she’s usually shopping for fur-repellent office wear. She considers her outdoorsmanship skills to be “average,” which means there’s a 50 percent chance yours are better – but also, an equal chance that they’re worse.

Field Notes: Backpacking Gifford Pinchot NF with Outdoor Asian

Participants during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.

Jay Horita is a Youth & Community Engagement Specialist for Northwest Youth Corps, supporting the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region. Here, he shares notes from a weekend backpacking experience with Outdoor Asian, a nonprofit whose goal is to encourage and study the participation of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the outdoors.

Participants pose for a group photo during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.
Participants pose for a group photo during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. From left: Jay Horita, Alvin Loong, Alice Cao, Chris Liu, Yewah Lau, Mumtz Mesania, Reina Miyamoto, Natalie Balkam, Deeshi Donnelly, Cheryl Truong, and Depak Awari. Courtesy photo provided by Deepak Awari.

On Friday, August 30th 2019, eleven members of the Outdoor Asian community from the Oregon and Washington chapters drove up a pothole-ridden and rocky Forest Service road to the Glacier View Trailhead in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest.

After a hot meal of noodles, we hit the sleeping bags to prepare for the next day’s backpacking adventure. 

Participants hike a trail downhill during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.
Participants hike a trail downhill during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.

This trip was the very first of its kind for Outdoor Asian in many ways: the first backpacking trip, the first multi-chapter collaboration event, the first trip occurring in wilderness areas of two public land agencies.

Trip leaders Chris Liu and I spent much time planning a positive, fun, challenging, and educational backpacking adventure for eleven Outdoor Asians. 

Participants prepared food, including some traditional asian dishes, during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.
Participants prepared food, including some traditional asian dishes, during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. From left: Chris Liu, Reina Miyamoto, Natalie Balkam, and Deepak Awari. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo provided by Deepak Awari.

We deliberately chose a diverse meal plan, which ranged from instant noodles to elaborate dahl and roti from scratch (rolled out on our Nalgene bottles!), to showcase the vast diversity of Asian backpacking food options.

Our goal was to ensure the participants realized they don’t have to give up their culinary heritage on trips into the back country! Thinking back to my early years in back country adventuring, I remember trips where all I ate were dehydrated mashed potatoes and tortillas, so it was great to treat everyone to familiar foods. We even had a rare tea blend, a Yuzu Green tea, to enjoy throughout the trip. The food brought us closer together, helping make the trip feel more like a family adventure.

Participants get a lesson in reading topographical maps during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.
Participants get a lesson in reading topographical maps during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. From left: Jay Horita, Yewah Lau, Mumtaz Mesania, Reina Miyamoto, Natalie Balkam, Alice Cao, Cheryl Truong, Chris Liu, and Alvin Loong. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.

Besides giving everyone a great backcountry experience, Chris and I also wanted to talk about a range of important topics from Leave-No-Trace principles to Wilderness First Aid. Some even had the chance to practice wilderness first aid by patching each others’ blisters and hot spots!

Participants compare trail footwear during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Yewah Lau.
Participants compare trail footwear during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Yewah Lau.

Our group included seasoned public land stewards, from biologists to district rangers, who shared their experiences working for the USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service.

Those uninitiated to public land management got a crash course on the differences between National Forest land (where we started the hike) and National Park land (where we ended it).

Participants during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.
Participants during an Outdoor Asian hiking trip on Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. The trip was supported in part by the USDA Forest Service. Courtesy photo by Deepak Awari.

Crossing the boundary from the Glacier View Wilderness into Mt. Rainier Wilderness was a special moment!

For me, the ultimate trip highlight was arriving at the Gobblers Knob fire lookout tower, where Mt. Rainier (or Tahoma, one of many Native American names for the mountain) peaked its glacier-covered summit through the clouds.

The mountain was spectacular and humbling. The lakes and meadows we visited were calming. The stars gave us perspective. The wilderness gave us the best backdrop to share our experiences as Outdoor Asians and develop our connection to a life outdoors.

Outdoor Asian participants pose atop a rocky outcrop during an August, 2019 backpacking trip through Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. Courtesy photo by Yewah Lau.
Outdoor Asian participants pose atop a rocky outcrop during an August, 2019 backpacking trip through Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington. Courtesy photo by Yewah Lau.

In future trips, we hope to address how all public lands (indeed all lands in the Americas) were cared for by the diverse tribes, groups, and nations of Native Americans; and still are, in many places.

Most importantly, we celebrated our shared connection to the land across all cultures. The Forest Service is, like most things, ephemeral in comparison to the mountain and its landscapes.

Hiking safely with mountain goats

A man with Mountain Goat on Mt Ellinor Trail in the Olympic National Forest in Washington. May 4, 2016. USDA Forest Service photo. For Mountain Goat Safety Guidelines: www.fs.usda.gov/detail/olympic/home/?cid=stelprdb5412239

How does one hike safely with mountain goats?

Step one: Back away, slowly.

Catching a glimpse of a goat perched high on the side of a craggy hillside or cliff is a welcome sight to many hikers and other recreational users of Your Northwest Forests.

But as the number of people using the forests increases, there’s also an increased risk of human-wildlife encounters that pose a threat to both humans and goats.

Three mountain goats are harnessed to a hoist line as they are transported below a helicopter to a handler, who waits to unharness the goats in the bed of a flatbed truck. The goats were sedated, blindfolded, then brought to this landing zone for veterinarian care prior to transport National Forests in the north Cascades mountains for release in native habitat. National Park Service Photo John Gussman.
Three mountain goats are harnessed to a hoist line as they are transported below a helicopter to a handler, who waits to unharness the goats in the bed of a flatbed truck. The goats were sedated, blindfolded, then brought to this landing zone for veterinarian care prior to transport National Forests in the north Cascades mountains for release in native habitat. National Park Service photo by John Gussman.

At places like Mount Ellinor on the Olympic National Forest, where the goats don’t naturally range (they were introduced to the area by hunters), salt they need to live is scarce.

Goats have been known to seek out humans, sometimes aggressively, in search of their food, sweat, and even urine.

In other forests, some mountain goats have grown accustomed to curious people getting too close and lost their fear of humans, with similar results.

While several agencies are working to relocate some goats to areas where they naturally range, it’s important to prevent all wild goats from becoming habituated to human contact, so they can remain wild without posing an undue threat to humans’ safety.

To protect wildlife from negative impacts of human contact:

  • Keep your distance! Stay at least 50 yards away from all mountain goats – about half the length of a football field.
  • If a mountain goat approaches, slowly move away from it to keep a safe distance.
  • If it continues to approach, try to scare it off by yelling, waving a piece of clothing, or throwing rocks.
  • Never surround, crowd, chase, or follow a mountain goat.
  • Do not feed mountain goats (or allow them to lick your skin, clothes, or gear, which may have absorbed salt from your sweat).
  • If you need to urinate while hiking, move far from the trail to avoid leaving concentrations of salts and minerals trailside, or contributing to the accumulation of minerals in one place.

Source information: Olympic National Forest (website)

Seeking ground less traveled: how elk respond to recreation

A female elk wearing a telemetry collar in the Starkey Experimental Forest and Range, Ore. The collar enabled scientists to track the animal’s movements in response to different types of recreation by volunteers wearing GPS units while riding all-terrain vehicles, mountain bikes, horses, or on foot. Courtesy photo by Leslie Naylor; Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Department of Natural Resources.

Recreation on public land is increasingly popular in the Pacific Northwest. But recreation management requires balancing opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors with mitigating the effects on wildlife and other natural resources.

Recreation and wildlife managers who are grappling with these issues asked scientists to quantify the impacts of motorized and non-motorized recreation on elk.

In Science Findings # 219, the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station explores recent research in Oregon that sought to measure how elk respond to various human, and especially recreation-based, activities.

Elk are highly valued for hunting and viewing by the public. As large herbivores, they also play a critical role in many ecosystems of the Intermountain West.

A large fenced area within the Starkey Experimental Forest and Range in eastern Oregon provided a unique setting for assessing how a wide-ranging species like elk respond to four types of recreation.

Real-time data recorded by telemetry units worn by people and elk alike allowed scientists to establish a cause-effect relationship between human movements and activities and elk responses.

Scientists found that elk avoided areas where humans were recreating. All-terrain vehicle use was most disruptive human-initiated activity, followed by mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding.

When exposed to these activities, elk spent more time moving rather than feeding and resting.

The findings build on earlier studies, which suggested that frequent disruptions and movement to avoid human contact increase mortality rates for newborn elk.

Researchers also found that such disruptions effectively reduce the total amount of usable habitat available for elk herds.

Land managers can use this information to assess trade-offs between multiple, and often competing, land uses. When combined with planning efforts that include stakeholder engagement, this research may offer a clearer path forward on balancing human and wildlife needs on National Forests and other public and privately-held lands.


Source information: Science Findings is published monthly by the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station. To search past issues, visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/.

Engineering answers for Spirit Lake

An aerial view to the south of Mount St. Helens in 1982 as another lahar—melted snow and volcanic rock (think wet cement)—occurred. When the lahar encountered the debris blockage from 1980, part of it flowed into Spirit Lake (bottom left), while the rest flowed west into the Loowit Creek drainage that flows into the upper North Fork Toutle River. USGS photo by Tom Casadevall.

In Science Findings #218, “The Spirit Lake Dilemma: Engineering a Solution for a Lake with a Problematic Outlet,” USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station writers explore new research into the future repair or replacement of an outflow tunnel at Spirit Lake, on Mount St. Helens.

The eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980 fundamentally transformed the surrounding landscape, triggering geophysical processes that are still unfolding.

Spirit Lake, with Mount St. Helens, Washington, in the background (2015). A debris avalanche triggered by a volcanic eruption on May 18, 1980, blocked the lake’s natural outlet. A tunnel was built to safely remove water from the lake and minimize the risk of catastrophic flooding to communities downstream. Maintaining the tunnel is expensive, so long-term solutions are being explored. USDA Forest Service photo by Rhonda Mazza.

Among them was a debris avalanche caused by the eruption, that blocked the outlet from Spirit Lake to the North Fork Toutle River.

To prevent the rising lake level from breaching the blockage and potentially flooding communities downstream, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built an outlet tunnel to maintain safe lake levels.

However, the tunnel must be periodically closed for repairs, during which time the lake level rises.

Prolonged closures, combined with increased volume from melting rainfall and snow in the spring, could allow the water level to rise high enough to breach the natural dam.

In 2015, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest commissioned a study to assess risks associated with alternative outlet options.

A team consisting of researchers from the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Oregon State University authored the study.

At the team’s request, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted a dam safety risk-assessment of long-term solutions: maintaining the existing tunnel, rehabilitating the tunnel, creating an open channel across the blockage, or installing a buried conduit across the blockage.

The assessment determined that there is no risk-free way to remove water from Spirit Lake, but the likelihood is generally low that these solutions will fail.

With this information, the Forest Service is moving forward with developing a long-term solution to managing the Spirit Lake outlet.


Source information: Rhonda Mazza is a public affairs specialist for the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station, which publishes Science Findings. Find past Science Findings at: https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/.

Animation tells story of fish and fire

Fire and Fish: Habitat and History in the Northwest is a 5-minute animated video featuring two Forest Service research biologists that illustrates the complex relationship between fire and fish in Pacific Northwest rivers and streams. This screen capture from the video depicts juvenile fish finding shelter within a fallen log that has become submerged in a stream channel, providing refuge from both predators and strong currents.

An animated video recently released by the Pacific Fire Science Consortium explores and illustrates the complex relationship between fish and fire in the Pacific northwest United States.

The video, “Fish and Fire: History and Habitat in the Pacific Northwest,” was produced by the University of Oregon School of Journalism.

It features interviews two Forest Service research fish biologists, Rebecca Flitcroft and Gordon Reeves, both assigned to the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station.

The scientists explain how some fish species in the Pacific Northwest have adapted to benefit from the impact of intermittent forest fires:

  • Fire adds silt and small rocks or gravel, which replenish materials needed to for some fish to create spawning beds.
  • Dead trees may fall into streams, creating complexity in the stream’s flow, which can reduce stress on fish by providing refuge from strong currents.
  • Log jams especially benefit juvenile species by creating broad flood plains, further diffusing rapid currents and offering many nooks and crannies in which to evade predators while nourishing the insect larvae, worms, beetles, and other organisms they may feed on.

The University of Oregon, the university’s Ecosystem Workforce Program, the Oregon State University and its Extension Service, The Nature Conservancy, Sustainable Northwest, the Center for Natural Lands Management, and the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station are members of the Northwest Fire Science Consortium, one of fifteen regional science information exchanges funded by the Joint Fire Science Program.

From FireScience.gov:

In the Pacific Northwest, native salmon and trout (family Salmonidae) are some of the toughest survivors on the block. Over time, these fish have evolved behavioral adaptations to natural disturbances, and they rely on these disturbances to deliver coarse sediment and wood that become complex stream habitat. Powerful disturbances such as wildfire, post fire landslides, and debris flows may be detrimental to fish populations in the short term, but over time they enrich in-stream habitats, enhancing long-term fish survival and productivity.

LAND MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS

Forest management activities, such as enhancing river network connectivity through fish passage barrier removal and reducing predicted fire intensity and sizes, may increase the resilience of bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) in the face of disturbances such as climate change and wildfire.

Natural disturbances, along with sound riparian management and road management practices that allow natural flood plain functioning, are important in maintaining healthy change in aquatic habitats. Connected, complex aquatic habitats benefit from ecosystem management practices that are analogous to the spatial extent of wildfires and bridge human-imposed divides such as land ownership boundaries.

Fire planning that includes aquatic issues such as habitat quality, stream network connectivity, and fish population resilience offers resource managers the opportunity to broaden fire management goals and activities to include potential positive effects on aquatic habitats.

WATCH the video here (or find it on YouTube):

More information:

Science Findings #198 (July, 2017): https://www.fs.usda.gov/pnw/publications/adaptation-wildfire-fish-story

“Wildfire may increase habitat quality for spring Chinook salmon in the Wenatchee River subbasin, WA, USA” (submitted 2015, published 2016): https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/journals/pnw_2015_flitcroft001.pdf


Source information: The USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Research Station is a leader in the scientific study of natural resources. We generate and communicate impartial knowledge to help people understand and make informed choices about natural resource management and sustainability. The station has 11 laboratories and research centers in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, and manages 12 active experimental forests, ranges, and watersheds.

Old-growth forests may shelter pockets of biodiversity after severe fires

A northern spotted owl perches on a tree limb.

CORVALLIS, Ore. (July 2, 2019) New findings show that old-growth forests, a critical nesting habitat for threatened northern spotted owls, are less likely to experience high-severity fire than young-growth forests during wildfires.

This suggests that old-growth forest could be leveraged to provide valuable fire refuges that support forest biodiversity and buffer the extreme effects of climate change on fire regimes in the Pacific Northwest.

A recent study published in the journal Ecosphere examined the impact of the Douglas Complex and Big Windy fires, which burned in the Klamath-Siskiyou region of Oregon during July 2013, a drought year.

The fires burned through a long-term study area for northern spotted owls.

Using information on forest vegetation before and after the fires, along with known spotted owl nesting areas, researchers had an unprecedented chance to compare the impact of wildfire on critical old-growth nesting habitat.

“On federally managed lands, spotted owl nesting habitat is largely protected from timber harvest under the Northwest Forest Plan, but wildfire is still a primary threat to the old-growth forest that spotted owls rely on for nesting habitat,” Damon Lesmeister, a research wildlife biologist for the USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, said. “The loss of spotted owl nesting habitat as a result of severe fire damage could have significant negative impacts on the remaining spotted owl populations as well as a large number of other wildlife species that rely on these old forests.”

Old-growth forests have more vegetation than younger forests. Researchers expected that this meant more fuel would be available for wildfires, increasing the susceptibility of old-growth forests to severe fire, high tree mortality, and resulting loss of critical spotted owl nesting habitat.

However, the data suggested a different effect.

Lesmeister and his colleagues classified fire severity based on the percentage of trees lost in a fire, considering forest that lost less than 20% of its trees to fire as subject to low-severity fire and those with more than 90% tree loss as subject to high-severity fire.

They found that old-growth forest was up to three times more likely to burn at low severity — a level that avoided loss of spotted owl nesting habitat and is generally considered to be part of a healthy forest ecosystem. 

“Somewhat to our surprise, we found that, compared to other forest types within the burned area, old-growth forests burned on average much cooler than younger forests, which were more likely to experience high-severity fire. How this actually plays out during a mixed-severity wildfire makes sense when you consider the qualities of old-growth forest that can limit severe wildfire ignitions and burn temperatures, like shading from multilayer canopies, cooler temperatures, moist air and soil as well as larger, hardier trees,” Lesmeister said.

Because old-growth forests may be refuges for low-severity fire on a landscape that experiences moderate to high-severity fires frequently, they could be integral as biodiversity refuges in an increasingly fire-prone region.

Leveraging the potential of old-growth forests to act as refuges may be an effective tool for forest managers as they deal with worsening fire seasons in the Pacific Northwest.

The study was a collaboration between researchers Damon Lesmeister and David Bell, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station; Stan Sovern and Matthew Gregory, Oregon State University; Raymond Davis, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region; and Jody Vogeler, Colorado State University. 


Source information: USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station (press release). The research station – headquartered in Portland, Ore. – generates and communicates scientific knowledge to help people make informed choices about natural resources and the environment. The station has 11 laboratories and centers located in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon and about 300 employees. Learn more at https://www.fs.usda.gov/pnw/

Forest Feature: Bigfoot

Someone you might see on the National Forest: Bigfoot/Sasquatch, pictured here. Sasquatches have been seen running away from a wildfire. Please be careful with fire when you are visiting their neighborhood.

It comes in many shapes, sizes, and forms. It’s an animal today, but a plant the next? Few see it, but it sees all. It (allegedly) LOVES Nutella! It’s everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It’s the last of its kind, a true legend. That’s right, this month’s Forest Feature honors the Pacific Northwest’s most unique forest creature: BIGFOOT!

Lurking always just out of sight, our friendly 8-or-more-feet-tall, gentle giant of the Pacific Northwest has (reportedly) graced us with its presence for decades now.

Some say that its large stature belies an otherwise congenial attitude towards other forest-dwelling creatures.

However in times past and present, many have described a “wild man” or “hairy man” stealing food from unwary hikers.

Some anthropologists and dedicated Bigfoot-hunters have devoted their lives to revealing its secrets; but in true bigfoot-style, the creature remains largely unexposed. You won’t even find it posting on Instagram (although you may find many imposters posing for a Kodak moment).

Did you know?

  • Bigfoot, sometimes known as Sasquatch, is also rumored to be a shapeshifter
  • The highest number of Bigfoot sightings is in Clackamas County (Oregon), along Hwy 244.
  • The Blue Mountains is allegedly one of its favorite spots, and where parts of the 1995 film “Bigfoot: The Unforgettable Encounter” were filmed (the story is set in Shaver Lake, Calif. and in the Modoc National Forest, also in California).
  • The first motion picture footage (alleged to be) of the elusive, notoriously camera-shy creature is known as the Petterson-Gimlin film, filmed in 1967.

This month, we have no photos of Bigfoot to share… but we do have a coloring page depicting an artist’s conception of Bigfoot in its natural habitat, created by the Jimmye Turner, a USDA Forest Service fire prevention specialist on the Umatilla National Forest.

We also have a drawing activity to help students draw on their creativity, curiosity, and to inspire questions about the many adaptations animals have evolved to meet the challenges of their environment.

While some of you may not be Bigfoot believers, Bigfoot offers a wonderful opportunity to talk about fire prevention during the hottest month of the year, the unexplored and undiscovered aspects of our forest’s wild and wilderness areas, and the importance of preserving habitat before more species become scarce, and seemingly as difficult to find as Bigfoot has proved to be.

Both of these resources are fun for all ages, but are especially suited to students in early elementary school (grades K-4).

Gather stories about Bigfoot in your own communities, use its mystique to inspire stewardship of the forest!

Resources:

Someone you might see on the National Forest: Bigfoot/Sasquatch, pictured here. Sasquatches have been seen running away from a wildfire. Please be careful with fire when you are visiting their neighborhood.
A coloring page, featuring Bigfoot (also known as Sasquatch). USDA Forest Service illustration by Jimmye Turner, Umpqua National Forest staff.

Source information: Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes, a family, order, kingdom, or genus) each month as part of the USDA Forest Service – Pacific Northwest Region’s regional youth engagement strategy.

If you’d like fact sheets, activities, or links to other educational resources about this topic – and for information about other ways the Forest Service can help incorporate environmental education and forest science in your classroom – email YourNorthwestForests@fs.fed.us.

Fire season safety tips for smoke-sensitive persons, drivers

Smoke blowing over a roadway nearly obscures USDA Forest Service wildland fire truck (WA-OWF E644) and a wildland firefighter from the camera's view.

While the “fire season” is off to a slower-than-normal start in many parts of the Pacific Northwest, fires like the Milepost 97 are here and ready to remind fire isn’t the only seasonal hazard to watch for. There are also two, other, closely related risks faced by our firefighters and our community during the season: smoke and motor vehicle traffic.

Even small fires can send a lot of smoke into nearby roadways. Sometimes, even smoke drift from distant fires can create enough haze to reduce visibility. That reduced visibility is a risk to pedestrians, other motorists (including those in or responding to disabled vehicles along the road shoulder), and even firefighters working nearby.

If you’re traveling in areas with nearby fire activity, be careful and use extra caution. In addition to reduced or poor visibility, you may encounter heavy equipment and firefighting trucks on the road. Drive carefully, slow down, and give plenty of space to firefighters and fire vehicles. Use extra caution when driving in smoke-filled conditions; debris, disabled vehicles and pedestrians may be concealed from view until you’re vehicle is just a few feet away.

Follow these tips to keep yourself and others, including firefighters and smoke-sensitive loved ones, safe!

  • If your travel plans require you to drive on routes that are impacted by fire or firefighting activity, consider alternate travel dates and/or routes.
  • If you must drive, pay close attention to road closures and warnings.
  • Be alert! Fire activity and subsequent operations can change quickly.  Adapt driving patterns accordingly and always yield to emergency responders.
  • Navigation applications on smart phones or other devices (GPS / maps) may not accurately reflect changing conditions. Watch out for changing local conditions and detours.
  • Plan ahead. If you live in a fire-prone area (which is all of us, in the Pacific Northwest!), keep your gas tank filled at least 3/4 full at all times. Maintain a clean air filter, and carry paper map or road atlas to assist you in travelling in areas with limited cell phone reception. Bring an extra cell phone charger (and battery back-up); make sure you have a spare tire and jack; and carry extra water, food, a first aid kit and a blanket in your vehicle at all times.
  • Remove unnecessary flammables from the vehicle, such as containers of gas and oil.
  • Stay calm and focus on driving tasks. Drivers should not be texting, taking photos or video footage, no matter what is unfolding around them!
  • Keep headlights “on” for safety when driving.
  • Keep vehicle windows closed when travelling through smoke, and close all exterior air vents; set air conditioning to the “recirculation” setting.
  • Smoke-filled air can also impact health at home, particularly for young children, the elderly, and for people with chronic heart or lung conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and COPD. If possible, maintain a “clean room” at home in which air can be filtered by an appropriately-sized filtration system; ideally, a True HEPA filter rated to remove 99.97% of particles of .3 microns or larger, paired with an activated charcoal filter to trap volatile organic compounds. (An air ionizer may also be helpful, but discuss your plans with a doctor as not everyone is a good candidate. Those with sensitive lungs should only run an ionizer while away from home to avoid breathing ionized particles, and people who are sensitive to ozone should not use ionizers).
  • Plan ahead! It’s important for everyone to have an emergency evacuation plan, but it is especially important for those with special needs, pets, or who do not have access to a motor vehicle to plan ahead. Find advice on emergency preparedness planning at RedCross.org and at Ready.gov.

Planning travel, and need the latest traffic, smoke and safety updates? These websites can help!

Why are bark beetles attracted to heat-stressed trees? Alcohol, new study says

Close-up image of a red turpentine beetle (Dendroctonus valens).

Foresters have long known that trees under stress from fire injury are vulnerable to bark beetle attacks. Now, Rick Kelsey and Doug Westlind, researchers with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, have developed a model that explains how physiological changes cause heat stress in woody tissues, even after exposure to less-than-lethal fire temperatures, and produce a chemical signal that attracts some bark beetles.

When heat disrupts normal cell functions, the tree produces ethanol as a short-term survival strategy.

And if enough ethanol accumulates, mixes with volatile organic compounds in the tree’s resin, and is released to the atmosphere, the combination has proved to be a strong attractant for red turpentine beetles.

A man in protective hat, vest inspects a tall, hanging series of cones.
Retired Forest Service scientist Rick Kelsey collects bark beetles captured in funnel traps following a prescribed fire in Oregon. Understanding the interplay between tree response to heat stress and certain insects can help forest managers design fuel-reduction treatments to achieve specific outcomes. USDA Forest Service photo.

Kelsey and Westlind showed that ethanol interacts synergistically with 3-carene, a dominant ponderosa pine resin monoterpene. In a trapping study, red turpentine beetles were more attracted to lures combining ethanol and 3-carene than lures with ethanol or 3-carene alone.

Understanding ecosystem responses to fire can help managers characterize forest health and plan for post-fire management.

The results also hold promise for developing simple ethanol detection methods for monitoring tree stress.

Real-time feedback on ethanol levels could help forest managers quickly assess which trees to cull after a fire, and which to leave in place.

Learn more in the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station’s Science Findings 217, at https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/58195.

Ethanol dissipation mechanisms: diffusion, sapflow, and metabolism with relative rates at ambient conditions. Ethanol is metabolized by alcohol dehydrogenase to acetaldehyde (Zanon et al. 2007), which is converted by aldehyde dehydrogenase to acetate, which is converted by acetyl-CoA synthase into acetyl-CoA (MacDonald and Kimmerer 1993, Gass et al. 2005). The latter can enter the tricarboxylic acid or glyoxylate cycles or be used to synthesize lipids depending on heat damage to membranes and enzymes. Ethanol dissipation mechanisms: diffusion, sapflow, and metabolism with relative rates at ambient conditions. Ethanol is metabolized by alcohol dehydrogenase to acetaldehyde (Zanon et al. 2007), which is converted by aldehyde dehydrogenase to acetate, which is converted by acetyl-CoA synthase into acetyl-CoA (MacDonald and Kimmerer 1993, Gass et al. 2005). The latter can enter the tricarboxylic acid or glyoxylate cycles or be used to synthesize lipids depending on heat damage to membranes and enzymes.
As ethanol accumulates in the tree, it immediately begins to dissipate via (1) diffusion, (2) sapflow, and (3) metabolism. Each process is affected differently by the heat-stress mechanism the tissues and whole tree experience. USDA Forest Service illustration (originally published at https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/67/5/443/3746565).

Source information: USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station (Science Findings 217). The research station – headquartered in Portland, Ore. – generates and communicates scientific knowledge to help people make informed choices about natural resources and the environment. The station has 11 laboratories and centers located in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon and about 300 employees. Learn more at https://www.fs.usda.gov/pnw/

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